Beyond the shelf: pack design for online

An urgent new reality for brands.

Everything that happened during the pandemic has reshaped the consumer landscape for brands. IBM’s Retail Index indicates that the shift away from physical to online shopping has been accelerated by 5 years during the period. Sales from physical department stores in particular have declined significantly.

Whilst product packaging still very much needs to pop ‘on-shelf’, it now needs to compete and influence purchasers on the virtual shelf… through digital marketing campaigns and e-commerce stores.

Branded packaging is presented online in a variety of ways: in lifestyle photos, in images of kitchens, living spaces or out-of-home locations. Pack designs could be glimpsed briefly in video clips or show up in thumbnail form on an e-commerce category list.

There are two areas where packaging design thinking needs to fundamentally re-focus:

Packs must be good-looking

With the internet obsession for image manipulation and idealism, pack design that looks good is a must. Brands must leverage the ‘I love it! What is it?’ phenomenon that explodes in the form of a gazillion Instagram shares.

Packs must be bold and original

Whilst the immediate response to this headline is probably ‘Duh, yeah of course, dummy!’ it’s hard to find those brands that are doing a really good job of making sure their packs still work on a 70mm mobile screen as well as shouting from the shelf. It’s really no surprise that brands such as Oatly and Rxbars are accelerating fast and outpacing competitors.

Rethinking packaging design was always an inevitability, as life in general is increasingly influenced and guided by our online experiences. What recent history has done is to make that change much more urgent!

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